• Story: What a Smile!?

    The murmuring of waves could be heard even through the stone walls. The sound they made as they broke against the rocks were like a pleasant musical background for those sitting inside • Full Story

    The murmuring of waves could be heard even through the stone walls. The sound they made as they broke against the rocks were like a pleasant musical background for those sitting inside.

    “Welcome to Beit Chabad,” said the sign.  It was meant for the Jewish tourists visiting the vacation spot in South Africa. Many Jews went there for Shabbos, to enjoy a warm, Jewish atmosphere.

    It was Gimmel Tammuz and R’ Gluckowsky, rav of the Chabad community in Rechovot, had been invited to farbreng in distant South Africa. The farbrengen was uplifting and joyous. There were plenty of l’chaims and good food and many stories about the Rebbe were told throughout the night.

    R’ Gluckowsky sat at the head of the table, facing about thirty people. He enthusiastically told them more and more about the Rebbe’s greatness.

    The hours passed but everyone was still alert and focused, as though it was the afternoon. Just one thing disturbed R’ Gluckowsky during the farbrengen. It was hard to look at but there was nothing he could do about it.

    Opposite him, in the front row, sat a man who wasn’t young, who listened to what he had to say with a mocking smile on his face. It was apparent that all the amazing stories about the Rebbe that were being told made no impression on him. On the contrary, rather than be impressed, he seemed to be scornful of them.

    The rav thought: Why does this man laugh at the Rebbe? If it is so hard for him to accept, he should sit in the back row, not in the front facing me. This is not appropriate behavior and it’s not respectful!

    The rav continued to farbreng, trying to ensure that nobody would notice that which bothered him so much.

    The farbrengen ended very late and everyone said goodbye emotionally, with a feeling of unity, as though they were all brothers.

    The next day, the shliach worked hard to arrange a minyan. It’s easy to arrange a minyan in Kfar Chabad, Crown Heights or Rechovot, but there, in that vacation spot in South Africa, the visitors to the Chabad House are tourists. Who was getting up so early and going to shul?

    But the shliach kept working at it and after many phone calls and persuasive tactics he managed to schlep ten Jews together to the shul for Shacharis at eight o’clock.

    R’ Gluckowsky waited at the shul and to his great surprise, who did he see? That very man who had sat facing him at the farbrengen, smirking the entire time.

    He was even more surprised when, at the end of davening, the man went over to him and began thanking him for the special stories about the Rebbe.

    R’ Gluckowsky did not understand.  The night before he had been mocking but today he was praising and thanking? Was this man normal?

    “I also have a personal story about the Rebbe,” the man said.  “I’m sure you’d be happy to hear it.”

    R’ Gluckowsky nodded and the man began:

    Many years ago, when we were able to see the Rebbe, I lived elsewhere in South Africa, far from here. I had a good career and made a nice living. Life was good until one day, a terrible thing happened. I woke up one morning and felt something had happened to my face. I was unable to move my facial muscles.

    My family was frightened by my twisted face and took me to the hospital. The doctors examined me and told my family, “He has an inflammation of the facial nerves. The only way we could help him is if we operate, but surgery has its dangers.”

    We were very worried. On the one hand, we couldn’t leave things as they were; on the other hand, we were afraid of undergoing this potentially dangerous operation.

    I was in the hospital pondering my dilemma when the shliach came to visit me. Just seeing him made me feel better. His smile and warmth made me feel calm.

    “Did you ask for a bracha from the Rebbe yet?” he asked.

    “No,” I said, barely able to talk.

    “Then I will call the secretaries right away and ask for a bracha for you.”

    A few hours later I received the Rebbe’s answer, “Do the operation and may it be successful. There might remain some minor effects of the operation, some mark of the inflammation, but nothing significant.”

    When I heard the Rebbe’s answer, I was thrilled. I knew I could have the operation without worry. I had the surgery and boruch Hashem and thanks to the Rebbe’s bracha, it was a success. Just a little something remained, as the Rebbe predicted, something minor.

    “I don’t know if you even noticed it but I always have a smile on my face which looks a bit cynical. Boruch Hashem, aside from that, I am healthy.”

    R’ Gluckowsky pictured the scene from the night before. The farbrengen, stories about the Rebbe, a man sitting in the front row and mocking the Rebbe.

    He felt terrible for thinking that about another Jew. What seemed like cynicism, like mockery, was the Rebbe’s prophecy. The Rebbe had predicted that something would remain after the surgery, yes, that “mocking” smile.


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